Nicholas Rogers is the London Assembly Member for South West London
Politics is a brutal business. Over the past few days, too many excellent Tories across London have suffered defeat. The roll call of the flagship London councils we have lost needs no repeating. In addition to fighting hard in my Southwest crest, I campaigned in most of the other boroughs and saw firsthand how high the level of our candidates was, how well they cared about their local communities and how hard they worked. My sincere condolences to all who missed.
After defeat, it’s tempting to wallow a bit in healing our wounds. It’s a natural human reaction but one that we shouldn’t indulge in too long. There are lessons to be learned and applied from the defeats we suffered in London. Many people will have their own thoughts; these are some of mine, scribbled down immediately after our killer results. Of course, it will take time to learn all the lessons from these elections.
London is unique in the world, distinct even from other leading global cities. This is what makes the city great. It also presents significant political challenges; the problems facing London are different – and on a different scale – from problems elsewhere in Britain. The electorate is distinct, as are their expectations of their politicians.
For us to address these issues and meet the expectations of our electorate, it is increasingly clear to me that the Conservative Party in London needs more freedom to respond appropriately. Part of that must require us to forge a distinct national conservative brand identity. Whilst I think an entirely separate party, as in Scotland, is a step too far and would create too much extra bureaucracy, a separate visual identity appropriate to London would help bind the party more closely together in our city and ensure that we are talking about a single voice on the issues that matter to our electorate.
And speaking of this electorate. London is the youngest region in the country with an average age of just over 35, about a year younger than me. There’s the old canard that people become more conservative as they age; well, millennials (I guess I am one, roughly) aren’t so young anymore and yet they show little sign of coming our way.
There are obvious reasons why this might be the case. A sense of belonging to one’s community – an issue in society – is at the heart of our conservative values. Yet if you’re sharing a rented apartment with a bunch of other people, struggling to save for a deposit despite having a decent job and a decent salary, how can you ever hope to build that stake in society, or even consider to start a family? With the average London property price over £530,000, this issue goes far beyond giving up avocado toast and canceling your Netflix subscription, despite what Kirsty Allsopp might say .
We need to build more quality housing in London with a variety of tenures – and we need to not only articulate the Conservative way of doing that, but also make sure we stand up for all those residents. How, for example, can London Conservatives better defend the rights of London tenants? Until they hear our message, Sadiq Khan’s siren call for rent control – a cynical failure if there ever was one – will prove very tempting.
Whether it’s housing, the cost of living or various social issues, it’s hard to escape the feeling that in London we are alienated from our electorate. This is why a separate London Curators identity is so important – it would give us the freedom to address these issues and set out our vision of a vibrant, exciting and prosperous modern London.
The fundamental truth, however, underlying all of this – the truth that gives me hope for a future conservative London – is that the facts of city life are deeply conservative. Cities exist because remarkable things happen when people live near each other; trade, business, job opportunities, entrepreneurship, technological innovation and cultural richness… It is a conservative language. We know it well.
City infrastructure and a variety of processes that are, again, deeply conservative, underlie and enable these bustling urban activities. London’s public transport network keeps the city alive. Its primary function is to enable proximity which, as described above, is the very reason for the city’s existence. Crossrail, for example, is important because it brings an additional 1.5 million people within 45 minutes’ journey of central London; it shrinks the city and facilitates proximity. To manage so many people living nearby, a strong and efficient police force is needed. To preserve London’s beauty, the built and natural environments must be carefully managed.
No one can tell me that Sadiq Khan’s Labor Party understands these issues better than we do. Nobody can tell me that he knows how to manage an efficient public transport network better than we do, or that he is more in tune with the way of doing the police in London, or that he knows how to build a “soft density” in the city, or why the concept of spontaneity and order is so important to keeping London livable.
We have better stories to tell on all of these issues. We can offer Londoners so much more than any of our opponents, but we need to be better at delivering our message, more unified in our approach across the city and more confident in our identity as London curators. It can be done; just look at our successes at Harrow and Croydon. We need to listen to Londoners, understand and act on what they tell us.
London Tories – our time will come again. We will relearn the habit of victory and the enormous honor of ruling the greatest city in the world will once again be ours.